Explaining How Existing Members and Churches were Driven Out of the PCUSA
Note: This is an unusually long post, but by necessity to explain this root cause of the PCUSA’s debacle.
It appears that a few years of surface quiet were experienced between 2002 and 2006. However, behind the scenes the PCUSA national leadership must have been preparing for the coup that occurred at the 2006 General Assembly. An informative report by David and Tim Bayly on this event follows.
Even more troubling to us is the approval of the so-called Peace, Unity, and Purity (PUP) Report, which, for the first time in our denomination’s history, allows local congregations and regional governing bodies to ordain as ministers, elders, and deacons people who refuse to accept or obey requirements for ordination established by the denomination’s constitution, if they convince the ordaining body that they can nonetheless serve. While this refusal to comply may apply to any requirement, the issue has been primarily focused on and driven by the question of ordaining practicing and unrepentant homosexual candidates…
A number of years ago our denomination’s constitution was amended to limit ordination to those who are faithful in marriage, which is between one man and one woman, or chaste in singleness. This wording was approved by a majority of the regional bodies, and re-approved twice by larger majorities each time. At the time it was added it was not a new limitation, but made explicit an understanding that had historically been practiced within the denomination (and for that matter in nearly all Christian denominations).
What made the PUP Report unconscionable was that it amends the denominational constitution by an unconstitutional process. It by-passed the regional bodies whose approval is required by the constitution itself. It is as though the U. S. Constitution were to be amended by a simple majority vote of Congress, by-passing the states. Advocates of the ordination of ineligible people, unable to change the constitution, proposed to “interpret” it by altering the meaning of the phrase “shall not” so that it from now on it means “may.” A prohibition was changed by interpretation into permission, because the advocates of change could not muster the votes to pass an amendment.
Lest you assume that this is a biased report, here is a contemporaneous report on the same General Assembly by NBC News.
Like other mainline Protestant groups, Presbyterians have been debating for decades how they should interpret Scripture on salvation, truth, sexuality and other issues.
But tensions erupted after a June 2006 meeting, when delegates granted new leeway in some cases for congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep a church requirement that clergy and lay officers limit sex to man-woman marriage.
The “delegates” in this quote are those to the General Assembly. Thus, it is the General Assembly, acting alone, that granted the “new leeway” to local congregations and Presbyteries.
The General Assembly continued down the path of democratic nullification in 2008, where numerous additional steps were taken. This article lays out what occurred.
… the denomination then turned to the issue of standards for ordination. The language to be replaced requires that all ministers of the church must live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” That language, consistent with Scripture and Christian tradition, is to be replaced with a new standard that would require nothing at all with reference to sexual integrity. The new wording would read:
“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation, pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation and establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”
The proposed amendment to the standards now moves to the denomination’s 173 regional units (presbyteries) where it must receive sufficient support. Similar efforts have failed in the past, but many believe that this proposal will be difficult to defeat. The defection of many conservatives from the denomination (and some churches as well) may weaken the opposition.
Nevertheless, even without the change in the standard, local presbyteries may well move to ordain active homosexuals anyway. The Associated Press explains how:
“Of equal importance to advocates on both side of the debate, the assembly also voted to allow gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object to the existing standard. Local presbyteries and church councils that approve ordinations would consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.
That vote was an “an authoritative interpretation” of the church constitution rather than a change to it, so it goes into effect immediately. The interpretation supersedes a ruling from the church’s high court, issued in February, that said there were no exceptions to the so-called “fidelity and chastity” requirement.”
The “standards for ordination” change would require further action by the next General Assembly to be fully accepted. The “authoritative interpretation” did not requite Presbytery approval to go into effect. Thus, “consent of the governed” had been in effect nullified. That is, regardless of how the Presbyteries voted, the PCUSA had enabled ordination of practicing homosexuals.
By these General Assembly actions the PCUSA was flipped from a denomination that rejected demands to align theology and policy with contemporary sexual liberation ideology to one that had lost it’s will to resist. This result was obtained by two distinct but related mechanisms, those being:
- by making it absolutely clear that the demanded policies would be implemented by illegitimate means, it encouraged those members and churches who formed the core of the resistance to leave the denomination
- those in opposition who still remained were so demoralized that many gave up and retreated into passivity.
Thus, between 2008 and 2011 the Progressive camp was able to achieve their demanded ends in a denomination that had effectively resisted them for decades.
As explicit standards on blocking homosexual ordination [are] starting to disappear, the General Assembly finally voted to approve of the ordination of … gays and lesbians on July 8, 2010 by a vote of 373 to 323. This new amendment was ratified on May 10, 2011. Approximately 19 presbyteries that voted against the issue in 2008-2009 switched to “yes” votes, including conservative areas, like northern Alabama. Some that resisted the issue in the past felt that gay/lesbian ordination was “inevitable” in any case.
The approval of gay/lesbian ordination upset conservative members, with some leaving to join more conservative denominations, like the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, which formed less than year after the new amendment was ratified.
This is political nullification posing as a legitimate process. Once this coup became successful it was virtually certain that Progressives would achieve dominance as orthodox members and churches fled what had become an overtly corrupt denomination.
Note in the following figure that it is after 2006 that the number of members and churches exiting the denomination began to significantly increase. Were our leadership not corrupt (or utterly incompetent, a perhaps more charitable but unlikely explanation) they would have easily recognized that the denomination was nearing a debacle between 2006 and 2011.
However, they likely viewed this situation as positive since it guaranteed eventual Progressive political dominance. What we know for certain is that they used the diminishing presence of orthodox Christians to obtain approval of gay ordination in 2010, thus driving the denomination from danger into outright debacle.
The current Progressive leadership doesn’t want us to know about these dirty dealings. While they may avoid accountability they shouldn’t be allowed to avoid the shame of their conduct.